MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And now as we continue our celebration of National Poetry Month, we bring you the work of Hope Anita Smith. In her latest collection, "Mother Poems," she writes about her relationship with her mother and the loss she experienced when her mother died.
Smith shares poems from that collection today, the first one called "Momma."
Ms. HOPE ANITA SMITH (Poet): I've got a momma who combs and plaits my hair with gentle soothing rhythms, fingers dancing everywhere.
I've got a momma who wraps me in her arms like I'm some kind of present, says I'm her lucky charm.
I've got a momma who loves me through and through, and can't nobody love me like my momma do.
I wrote this poem as a tribute to my mother. I wanted to say how much she loved me. I wanted to show how much she loved me in this poem. I think it expresses all the things that she shared with me and the way our relationship was, and there truly is no greater love than the love of a mother.
I'd like to share another poem with you. It's entitled "Duped."
Everybody talks about death, the thief who takes away people you love. Kidnaps them. Grabs them from their beds as they sleep.
Sometimes he waves wildly, yells a big hello. As if you know he's coming. As if you sent him an invitation.
And sometimes he seems to hurl himself through space and like Dorothy's house in the Wizard of Oz lands with a thud on some unsuspecting someone. And then they are gone.
But occasionally he sneaks up on you, taps you on your right shoulder, and when you turn to look, he reaches over your left and takes your mother.
It was the oldest trick in the book. I can't believe I fell for it.
This is the feeling I had after my mother died. I lost my mother when I was 12 and it was at that age where you believed in your own immortality, but even more so you thought your mother would be around forever, and so I wrote this because of the shock of waking up one morning and having her not be there and not being prepared for that in any shape, form or fashion.
And I'd like to share with you a poem that I wrote because now that my mother is gone, I have to find new ways to keep her memory alive and new ways to honor her, and my mother and I had a tradition that we shared every year that she was with me, and this poem is called "Constructing Trees."
I could feel it coming. Like wild horses galloping toward water, I could feel Christmas coming to me. My mom and I would bring it up from the basement. Ornaments, holiday decorations and our tree, lying dead in its coffin, its epitaph on the lid. No R.I.P. here - instead, A.R.: assembly required.
We grew our tree, my mother and I, from the base to the tree topper. We raised the tall pole and I held it with two hands while my mother wrestled the green-tipped branches into the green ring around the base and then we worked our way up, matching the color tips to the ring colors around the pole: red, yellow, blue, black, brown, orange, white, and another color that had long since disappeared.
If we counted the rings, our tree was nine years old. It took some time, making a tree. Every year it got a little harder. The colors became fainter. But we didn't care. I marveled that we were doing a thing only God could do.
We were making a tree. We dressed it in colored lights, ornaments and silver strands of tinsel. When we were through, we would stand back and admire it. And right before our eyes, like Geppetto's Pinocchio, it became real.
I build trees all the time now. Memory trees. I start at the base, my earliest memory, and work my way up, hang moments with my mom in my mind. Some of them real, some imagined. All of them shining.
This poem has a lot of significance for me because memory trees are pretty much all we have after we lost someone that we love, and the wonderful thing about memories is that they are year-round.
We don't have to wait for a special time to bring them out, and I keep my mother's memory trees with me all the time. They are always out and up and on display.
MARTIN: That was Hope Anita Smith, sharing three of her poems from her book, "Mother Poems."